MELBOURNE • As the calendar flipped to 2020, Serena Williams was once again being feted, this time as sportswoman of the decade in the United States.
She was an obvious choice, having started 2010 with a blast by winning the Australian Open for a fifth time before going on to pile up 11 more Grand Slam singles titles before the decade was done.
Yet that decade did not end with a bang for the great Williams but, rather, with a slow fade. She did not coast into the 2020s so much as trudge here through a barren patch of nearly three years.
With motherhood having given her fresh perspective and priorities in her late 30s, the 38-year-old had not won a singles title of any description since 2017, while her quest to match Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slams had stalled on 23.
So the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of a new decade, had looked ready to usher in a new era for women's tennis until the American turned back the clock last Sunday by winning the Auckland Classic in New Zealand.
"It's pretty satisfying just to get a win in the final," she told reporters following her 6-3, 6-4 win over compatriot Jessica Pegula.
"That was really important for me – and I just want to build on it. It's just a step towards the next goal."
That goal is a singular one that has grown into a quest – to match and surpass Court's record.
Australia has provided a happy hunting ground for Williams, with seven of her 23 Slam titles coming at Melbourne Park, including her last in 2017 when she beat sister Venus in the final and later announced she was pregnant.
But Grand Slam success has proven elusive since the birth of daughter Alexis Olympia.
Four times – twice each at Wimbledon (2018, 2019) and the US Open (2018, 2019) – she has come agonisingly close to that 24th Slam, only to fall at the final hurdle.
The last time Serena Williams won a Slam title – the Australian Open three years ago.
"I'm not necessarily chasing a record," insisted Williams after her straight-set loss to Canadian Bianca Andreescu in last year's US Open final. "I'm just trying to win Grand Slams."
Since having a child and returning to the WTA Tour, Williams' focus has been split between raising a family and work. Striking that balance has been a challenge. She has tried a limited schedule but her play lacked sharpness.
She then played more but, by the time she reached the end of a two-week Grand Slam grind, she had run out of fuel and ideas.
In four Grand Slam finals since that 2017 Australian Open win, she has also failed to take a single set.
Her presence is not as intimidating, her power not as threatening. She no longer relies on speed and athleticism to get to balls but on experience and guile.
But one thing that has remained intact is the old Williams self-belief. As she says herself: "You have to be your biggest cheerleader."
She gets under way in Melbourne tomorrow against 90th-ranked Russian Anastasia Potapova, with a potential quarter-final agaiRead More – Source